California OKs Toughest Auto Emissions Rules

California has adopted the world's first rules to reduce greenhouse emissions for autos, taking what supporters see as a dramatic step toward cleaning up the environment but also ensuring higher costs for drivers.

LOS ANGELES — California has adopted the world's first rules to reduce greenhouse emissions for autos, taking what supporters see as a dramatic step toward cleaning up the environment but also ensuring higher costs for drivers.

The rules may lead to sweeping changes in vehicles nationwide, especially if other states opt to follow California's example. New York has already said it will follow the regulations, and several other states are expected to do the same.

Under the regulations, unanimously approved Friday by the California Air Resources Board, the auto industry must cut exhaust from California's cars and light trucks by 25 percent and from larger trucks and sport utility vehicles by 18 percent.

"In the short term we probably won't see much effect because global warming is a very long-term problem," said Terry Tamminen, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency (news - web sites). "People won't see immediate benefits from this but they need to understand that their children will."

Auto industry officials argued vehemently against the regulations on three points — that the board did not have the authority to adopt the regulations, that they could not be met by current technology and that they unfairly targeted California, which produces less than 1 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.


The board said its research had found that the regulations would result in vehicle price increases that would top out at about $1,000 more per vehicle by 2016. The auto industry has estimated the increase at about $3,000, but the board's staff said that number was exaggerated.

The industry will have until 2009 to begin introducing cleaner technology, and will have until 2016 to meet the new exhaust standards. The proposals would require automakers to reduce emissions by using such technological innovations as better air conditioners, more efficient transmissions and smaller engines.

Board members said there is no dispute greenhouse gases contribute to global warming that can harm California's economy in fields ranging from agriculture to tourism.

They said the emissions can also lead to serious respiratory problems, especially among children, by exacerbating smog. Los Angeles has the worst smog problem in the nation.

But Gloria J. Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the industry trade group Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the regulations would only reduce worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases by "one-tenth of 1 percent."

"We see that as no apparent health benefit at a great cost to California consumers," she said.

Bergquist said manufacturers are already working to produce cleaner vehicles but introducing the technology required under the regulations would be "almost as complicated as developing the first automobile."

Asked after the vote if her group planned to sue to block the regulations, she said no decision had been made.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who supports the regulations, has pledged to fight any lawsuits brought by automakers.

California, with an estimated 26 million vehicles on the road, has long been a leader in automotive and environmental trends, and the new standards could have a coast-to-coast effect. Because California represents 10 percent of the national auto market, the auto industry often overhauls all of its cars to meet California's standards.

Because it began regulating pollution before the federal government, California is the only state able to set its own vehicle pollution standards. Other states can adopt either the federal standards or California's.

Under the Clean Air Act, however, the state needs approval for its regulations from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The agency said last year that carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases, was not a pollutant and that it did not have authority to regulate it.

California and several other states have filed a petition seeking to reverse the decision.

Board spokesman Jerry Martin said the EPA has approved California regulations in the past that were stricter than the federal government's, and may do so again.

Spokespersons for the EPA and the White House, which has authority over the agency, did not return calls for comment Friday.

The rules will also be reviewed by the California Legislature.

Board members said before the vote that they were disappointed automakers did not accept invitations to work with them on the regulations.

"The response, the silence, was deafening," said the board's chairman, Alan Lloyd. "I hope that we still can work together on this tremendously important issue. The stakes could not be higher."

The proposals stem from a law signed by former Gov. Gray Davis in 2002 that required the board to set emission standards for greenhouse gases. The bill's author, Democratic Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, said the fact that the action had the support of Davis, a Democrat, and Schwarzenegger, the Republican who replaced him, "speaks to the unified effort among all Californians" to reduce greenhouse gases.

Pavley said Friday's vote marked the first time in the world regulations have been placed on vehicles for the specific purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A July poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed 81 percent of Californians support limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

In a campaign spearheaded by environmental groups, more than 112,000 people wrote cards or letters urging the governor to continue his support for the law.

Source:Associated Press